Kevin Stallings pleads with the referees

Kevin Stallings' Vanderbilt team took a rather difficult loss to West Virginia in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off championship today. The Commodores lost on a game-winning 3-pointer by WVU guard Casey Mitchell, who scored 31 points (yes, Casey Mitchell scored 31 points, and yes, I also had to make sure my eyes were working correctly) on 9-of-15 shooting from the field, including a 6-for-12 mark from behind the line. Anytime Casey Mitchell torches you for 31 -- including a game-winning 3 with 3.8 seconds left -- you've had yourself a bit of a rough day at the office.

The day was tough enough for Stallings without any loud confrontations with the referees. But he had those, too. Stallings was apparently very loud and (very consistent) with his criticisms of the refs, and his complaints began almost immediately after the opening tip. From the AP:

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings was livid with the referees from the start, yelling "don't turn this into a 67-foul fiasco!" West Virginia beat Davidson on Thursday in a game that had 67 personal fouls. He was whistled for a technical foul only 2 1/2 minutes into the game. Mitchell hit two free throws and a 3-pointer off the possession to put the Mountaineers ahead for good.

Later in the first half, and with the free-throw attempts at a lopsided 22-7 in favor of West Virginia, Stallings barked "22-7! 22-7!" One referee sternly cautioned Stallings "don't say it again."

You kind of have to feel for him. The foul discrepancy thing is a red herring -- more often than not, if a team has more fouls than the other, it's because, duh, they're committing more fouls -- but there's no getting around the fact that referees have spent much of the early part of this season whistling a rather enormous number of fouls. The 24-hour college hoops tip-off marathon was riddled with games slowed to a crawl by constant whistles. Last night's Illinois-Texas game, as physical as it was, was besieged by a bevy of foul calls on marginal plays. And a quick glance at Statsheet.com's referee data reveals (at least partially) the notion that across the board, refs are calling a significantly higher number of fouls per game this season than they've averaged over the past 13 years, both individually and as a group. (That goes for technical fouls, too; Curtis Shaw, the 13-year leader in techs, called one every two games or so; referee Pat Adams has worked seven games and already blown for a technical 14 times.)

What does all this mean? Probably nothing. After all, the early part of the year always involves a mutual struggle between players and referees. Players have just spent seven months playing pickup basketball and roughing up teammates in practice, which is bound to lead to a more physical game. IN the meantime, referees called their last games seven or eight months ago. Everyone's rusty. Everyone's still figuring things out.

Let's hope that's the case. Let's hope everyone settles in. The alternative, that college basketball's refs -- who are overworked and underpaid, it should be noted -- are calling more fouls than ever this season by design is downright frightening.

It's also very unlikely. But, just for good measure, a quick reminder: Let the game flow, guys. No one tunes in to see your mechanics at the scorer's table. You have approximately one week to sort this out, or else. Or else what? Or else we, um ... write more blog posts about it! You've been warned!